Browsing a document collection represented in two- and three-dimensional virtual information space

S. J. Westerman*, J. Collins, T. Cribbin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reports a study of information retrieval performance using an interface in which documents were represented by objects in a virtual environment. Spatial location was determined by semantic content, with inter-object distance representing semantic similarity of documents. The quality of spatial-semantic mapping was manipulated as was the number of dimensions (two versus three) in which document nodes were arranged. Participants were required to browse the information space and identify all documents relevant to a specified topic. Results indicated that participants were able to use three-dimensional spatial mapping of semantic information to facilitate task performance, with performance being better when the quality of the mapping was higher. Strategy differences were identified, with participants adopting a more 'exhaustive' approach when searching two-dimensional node arrangements, and a more 'focused' approach for three-dimensional arrangements. Cognitive ability was not strongly associated with task performance, but participants of relatively lower cognitive ability tended to out-perform those of higher cognitive ability in three-dimensional conditions. Possible reasons for these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-736
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Human-Computer Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2005


  • Individual differences
  • Information retrieval
  • Information visualization


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